THE LECTIONARY

Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Readings: Nehemiah 8:2-10

1 Corinthians 12:12-30

Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

This Sunday’s readings continue the theme, introduced last week, of rejoicing in the fulfillment of God’s promises through the gift of the Torah and the coming of Jesus. As we hear the good news of God’s saving revelation in the law and Jesus, let us gratefully sing the refrain of the responsorial psalm: “Your words, Lord are spirit and life” (Ps 19).

The first reading from the Book of Nehemiah recounts Ezra’s proclamation of the Torah in Jerusalem to the Jewish exiles who had returned from Babylon. During the reign of the Persian emperor Artaxeres (c. 465-423 B.C.), Ezra, the priest and scribe, came from Babylon with a written copy of the Torah that was to become the basis for the reform of Jewish life in the post-exilic period. Ezra’s influence was so great that he is often called “the second Moses” and “the father of Judaism,” the proper term for the religion of the people of Judea after their return from Babylonian exile.

Virtually every detail of the account indicates the importance of the Torah for Jewish life. In order that the whole assembly may hear the words of the Torah, Ezra reads the book while standing on a wooden platform. He carefully opens the scroll “so that all the people may see it.” Out of reverence, the people rise as the book is opened and, as Ezra blesses them, they respond “Amen, amen!” When the Torah is being read, they “prostrate themselves before the Lord, their faces to the ground.” So that the assembly may fully understand the law of God, Ezra reads “plainly” and interprets it, a process that was continued in the Targums and rabbinical tradition. Finally, we can sense the joy that the Jewish community takes in the gift of the Torah. Although they first weep because their ancestors have not lived up to the Torah’s demands, Ezra commands them to rejoice and celebrate the Lord's revelation with a holy festival, rich foods and sweet drinks.

The epistle reading is a continuation of Paul's exhortation to the Corinthians to use their many spiritual gifts for the good of the whole community rather than the promotion of personal honor. Paul uses the metaphor of the body of Christ to express the interdependence and unity of all members of the community. Whether they are Jews or Greeks, slave or free, they all belong to the one body. In contrast to the status conscious Roman world of the first century A.D., God has so constructed the body of the church that the lowly members are given the greater honor, and therefore there is to be no dissension in the church. All members are to be concerned with one another and share in each person’s sufferings and joys. In the conclusion of this section Paul does rank the offices in the church (apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in tongues), but he ends by noting that no one performs all of these.

In the Gospel selection, Luke solemnly presents Jesus as the fulfillment of God's promise of universal salvation given in the Jewish Scriptures. The first section of the reading is Luke's formal preface to the whole Gospel in which he informs his patron Theophilus that he is writing “a narrative of the events which have been fulfilled in our midst.” Jesus’ reading of the Scripture scroll in the synagogue at Nazareth is Luke’s programmatic introduction to the Galilean ministry and the first public proclamation of the adult Jesus in the Gospel. Jesus’ mission is firmly rooted in the traditions of his own people’s Scriptures. He enters “the synagogue on the Sabbath as he was in the habit of doing” and reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah which speaks of a Messiah anointed by the Lord’s spirit to bring glad tidings to those who are in need of salvation:

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19; see Isa 61:1-2; 58:6).

When Jesus finishes, he rolls up the scroll, gives it to the assistant, sits down and announces solemnly, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21). This text will provide the format for Jesus’ ministry in Luke. The poor and the outcast will find their savior in Jesus.

As we continue to read Luke’s Gospel in the C cycle, the joyful good news and the revolutionary character of Jesus’ mission will become more and more evident.